The blogging industry has always been compared to the “Wild West” and rightly so. Fashion blogging in particular has a lot of characteristics of the Wild West, in that there are a few pioneers that have become famous and make great livings from their blogs – and the path to success has been wide open for anyone willing to give it a try.
When I first started blogging seriously in 2007, blogging was still considered new, unknown and a little bit rough. Over the years the amount of growth in the blogging industry exceeded anyone and everyone's expectations, garnering millions of visitors a month, and making money hand over fist. It appeared as though we entered a new age of digital media.
The Shift From PR Stunts to Business Strategy
The first blogger collaborations and events were seen as something of an experiment. Chanel flew a bunch of bloggers to tour Coco Chanel's apartment in 2007. One of my first “I want to do that” moments in blogging was reading about Susie Bubble's trip to NYFW to attend the star-studded Gucci Unicef party in 2008. The notorious appearance of Bryan Boy in the front row of Dolce Gabanna in 2009 and Tavi (and her hat) in the front row of Dior Couture in early 2010 started the wave of attention and PR potential bloggers could bring to a brand. Things had changed all of the sudden; a whole world of possibility opened up.
Anyone could make it if they have the talent, drive and dedication. Tavi started out in the suburbs of Chicago as a bored tween, and last week made an appearance on the Colbert Report (though still being asked about that front row experience three years before). The last few years have been amazing for our community: bloggers doing real advertising campaigns like Atlantic Pacific's Covergirl campaign in the September Issue of Vogue, or last year's outrageous Banana Republic runway show in the air. Bloggers locked down regular gigs with prestigious brands like Tiffany's and Estee Lauder, and some were able to command thousands of dollars for appearance fees during Fashion's Night Out. Bloggers and brands worked together in a gold-rush frenzy, each trying to top the last big project or PR stunt.
In my own experience, the deliverables became more specific, case studies more carefully reviewed. Then it became obvious that it wasn't just happening to me, as other blogger campaigns became more cross platform and involved, and yet somehow less and less extravagant as the year drew to a close.
I started to notice shifts in how bloggers and brands work together sometime over the summer of 2012. In my own experience, the deliverables became more specific, case studies more carefully reviewed. Then it became obvious that it wasn't just me. Across the board, blogger campaigns became more multi-platform and involved, yet ever less extravagant as the year drew to a close.
In conversations with fellow bloggers, they noted that brands were asking how return on investment (ROI) could be guaranteed, or asking for deliverables never asked before. It became obvious that the way bloggers and brands were working together had shifted from PR spectacle to revenue driver. Perhaps it was the economy, the retail industry had cut jobs at the end of 2012, when the rest of the economy was adding jobs. Is the honeymoon between brands and bloggers over?
The Blogger's New Establishment
We don't want to hear it. It's not as sexy of a story as “blogger makes tens of thousands of dollars for an appearance,” or “blogger gets comped trips around the world.” Yes, these projects are still happening for the top 1% of bloggers, and will continue, however, the spends on bloggers will rely more and more on the tangible ROI and track record of previous campaigns than they have in the past.
…businesses concerned with bottom lines can't continue to invest money for experiments without seeing concrete progress
This is bound to happen, businesses concerned with bottom lines can't continue to tank money in to experiments without seeing concrete progress. Brands are still learning how to articulate what they want from bloggers, whether they fall into PR or marketing – which is a big part of the problem. And, Bloggers are still learning how to articulate their worth, as well as manage expectations – which is the other part of the problem.
The era of the celebrity blogger lifestyle is on its way out. At least until, bloggers, both individually and as a community, can quantify how they can generate revenue to brands in to justify the expenditures.
The era of the celebrity blogger lifestyle is on its way out. At least until bloggers, both individually and as a community, can quantify how they will generate revenue for brands to justify the expenditures. At the same time, brands are becoming more sophisticated in how they track ROI, readers are becoming more sophisticated in how they engage with branded content, and that leaves us, the bloggers, to become more sophisticated in the products and services we sell in order to sustain ourselves and our blogs.
How This Will Be Better for Bloggers
Like with any gold rush, bubble burst, or whatever you want to call it, inflated sense of value and promise isn't good for anyone. It puts pressure on both parties to come up with a long term partnership. Figuring out what is actually valuable about your blog will be the first step in growing something that can be sustained and flourish. Not relying on one-off projects and being hot for a minute will help bloggers achieve longevity, and ultimately create a community built on purpose and experience rather than a frenzy of blind luck.
The Wild West inevitably settled down and built something much stronger than the initial promises of riches and fame (well, in many ways, it still offers both, but in different ways). The same thing is happening to blogging, and that's a very promising thing.
We just have to remain teachable, and adapt to the ever-changing world.